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copyright © Laraine Flemming 2012Chapter 6: The Role of Inferences in Comprehension and Critical Reading From this chapter, you’ll learn how to make connections between sentences. infer main ideas that are suggested but not stated. add implied supporting details. draw conclusions that follow from information supplied in the paragraph or reading. copyright © Laraine Flemming 2012
Key Term: Chains of Repetition and ReferenceTo indicate that a word or phrase is important and worthy of your attention writers create chains of repetition and reference. They introduce a word or phrase and either repeat or, more likely, refer to it throughout a passage. To mentally construct chains of repetition and reference, readers need to draw inferences. The inferences they draw lead them to the topic and main idea. copyright © Laraine Flemming 2012
An Example of Repetition and Reference at WorkNote how the author uses chains of repetition and reference to keep the words baby, cry and emotion at the forefront of the reader’s consciousness and lead the way to the topic and main idea: “1Crying is another common way infants express emotion. 2Newborn babies cry for a variety of reasons, but primarily because they are unhappy at being hungry, cold, or wet, in pain, or deprived of sleep. 3The nature of the baby’s distress is often reflected in the type of cry she makes.” Bukatko and Dahler. Child Development, p.376 Note how the phrase “newborn babies” in sentence 2 stands in for “infants” in sentence 1. Notice, as well, that it’s up to the reader to recognize that “newborn babies” is a synonym for “infants.” The same is true for the pronoun “they” in sentence 3, which is a stand in for “babies.” Look, too, at how the word “unhappy” in sentence 2 and “distress” in 3 keep the theme of emotion front and center in the passage. Based on these chains of repetition and reference, it makes sense to infer that “infants crying” is the topic and “Infants cry to express distress is the main idea.” copyright © Laraine Flemming 2012
copyright © Laraine Flemming 2012Spot Quiz Part 1: How many references to Alicia Keys can you find in the following passage? When she was just barely out of her teens, singer, songwriter, and classically trained pianist Alicia Keys climbed to the top of the pop charts and has stayed there ever since. Helped by a stint on Oprah in 2001, the young songwriter’s first release Songs in A Minor sold an astonishing 235,000 copies. By the end of the year, Keys had two top 10 singles from the album, “Fallin” and “A Woman’s Worth.” Born Alicia Augello-Cook in 1981, Keys had started out as a child actress with a small role on the Cosby show but had become serious about music and devoted herself to training as a classical pianist. After dropping out of Columbia University to pursue a career in music, the young musician inked a deal with So so Def Recods and attracted the attention of powerful music-industry mogul Clive Davis, who signed her to his company Arista Records. After Songs in A Minor was released everyone in the music business new the gifted entertainer had a bright future ahead of her, and nothing she has done since the album’s release suggests those rosy predictions were either hasty or mistaken. copyright © Laraine Flemming 2012
copyright © Laraine Flemming 2012Spot Quiz 1:Did you notice all of these? Based on this chain of repetition and reference what’s the topic of the passage? When she was just barely out of her teens, singer, songwriter, and classically trained pianist Alicia Keys climbed to the top of the pop charts and has stayed there ever since. Helped by a stint on Oprah in 2001, the young songwriter’s first release Songs in A Minor sold an astonishing 235,000 copies. By the end of the year, Keys had two top 10 singles from the album, “Fallin” and “A Woman’s Worth.” Born Alicia Augello-Cook in 1981, Keys had started out as a child actress with a small role on the Cosby show but had become serious about music and devoted herself to training as a classical pianist. After dropping out of Columbia University to pursue a career in music, the young musician inked a deal with So so Def Recods and attracted the attention of powerful music-industry mogul Clive Davis, who signed her to his company Arista Records. After Songs in A Minor was released everyone in the music business knew the gifted entertainer had a bright future ahead of her, and nothing she has done since that album’s release suggests those rosy predictions were either hasty or mistaken. I count sixteen references to the singer, either in the form of explicit repetition or linguistic substitutes such as synonyms and pronouns. The references are also implicit in phrases like “After dropping out of Columbia.” There’s no doubt Alicia Keyes is the topic, but the next step is, Can students see the theme developing concerning Keys’s youth, also referred to repeatedly in phrases like “barely our of her teens.” “young songwriter’s,” and “young musician” and put it together with the topic to come up with a main idea like : “Alicia Keys became a star on the pop charts at a very young age.” Ultimately, that’s the goal to combine intertwining themes into a main idea. copyright © Laraine Flemming 2012
copyright © Laraine Flemming 2012Spot Quiz 2: What chain of repetition and reference dominates the following passage? 1Jury duty is an essential part of living in a democratic society. 2But you’d never know it from the way some American citizens try to dodge it. 3 Some people just throw the summons into the waste basket. 4They figure that if the state authorities come after them, it’s easy enough to claim the notice never arrived. 5Should the authorities pursue the issue—and they often don’t—it’s up to the state to prove that the notice actually got into the potential juror’s hands, and that’s not easy to do. 6For those who lack the nerve to just chuck the notice, there’s a second choice. 7During the interview stage of jury selection, jury dodgers can twitch, roll their eyes, stutter and shake, signaling that as a potential juror, they are overly biased or mentally unbalanced. 8Both states of mind are reason for dismissal, leaving the jury dodger free and clear for another few years until, once again, the notice to appear for jury duty arrives in the mailbox, forcing jury dodgers to come up with a new scheme for avoidance. Students should notice that jury duty, jury dodgers or people dodging jury duty are central to the discussion. copyright © Laraine Flemming 2012
Key Term: Implied Main IdeaThe implied main idea is suggested by or follows from the supporting details in the passage. ties the supporting details together in the same way that a stated main idea, or topic sentence, connects supporting details. is based more heavily on statements made by the writer than on the reader’s personal experience. never contradicts any statements in the paragraph. copyright © Laraine Flemming 2012
An Example of an Implied Main IdeaBorn in 1907, Louis Zamperini grew into a wild, spirited teenager who many people predicted would come to a bad end. But Zamperini surprised his critics and stopped getting into trouble. Instead of gambling and hopping trains, he took up running at the suggestion of his older brother, who had told young Leo that if he kept going the way he was, he’d be dead sooner rather than later. Competitive running suited the boy’s high-spirited nature, and he was good at it, so good, in fact, he was selected for the 1936 Olympics, where Adolf Hitler took the time to congratulate him. But it was also Hitler who ended Zamperini’s running career. When the U.S. entered World War II to put a stop to Hitler’s domination of Europe, Zamperini joined the armed forces. Promoted to second lieutenant, he was deployed as a pilot over the Pacific, where his plane crashed in 1942, and he and two comrades were plunged into shark-infested waters, where they floated on a rubber lifeboat for 47 days, living on little more than determination. More dead than alive, Zamperini was finally plucked out of the water by sailors on a Japanese harbor boat, and he ended up in a prisoner of war camp. When his captors discovered he was a famous athlete, they made an example of him. For two years, Zamperini endured horrific psychological and physical abuse, but he survived and when the war ended, he returned home a hero. Eventually he became a sought after inspirational speaker and was the subject of a best-selling biography titled Unbroken. The paragraph implies that Zamperini’s critics could not have been more wrong. He went on to defy their predictions and became a hero. copyright © Laraine Flemming 2012
A Logical Implied Main IdeaThe implied main idea of the previous paragraph is something like this: “Louis Zamperini defied the expectations of his early critics to become a heroic figure who inspired others. A statement like this is the logical implied main idea because it is based on what’s said in the paragraph i.e. early in life people expected Zamperini to fail and he became a hero instead. it functions like a topic sentence and unifies the two threads of the paragraph, the expectations of Zamperini’s bad end and his return from World War II a hero. it’s not contradicted by anything said in the paragraph. copyright © Laraine Flemming 2012
An Illogical Implied Main IdeaThe following would not be a logical implied main idea: “The stubborn nature that had made Zamperini break all the rules as a kid is precisely what made him a survivor in World War II. “ This implied main idea is not logical because it’s not grounded in what the author actually says. The passage does not say if Zamperini was stubborn or not. if anything, the paragraph contradicts the idea that throughout his life, Zamperini remained, the kind of person he was when very young. Running had already changed his behavior by the time he went to war. it doesn’t help connect or tie together the existing sentences; instead it adds an element never addressed—Zamperini’s alleged stubborness and leaves out his becoming a hero and later on an inspirational speaker. copyright © Laraine Flemming 2012
copyright © Laraine Flemming 2012Just a Suggestion Unbroken is the title of a wonderful biography about Louis Zamperini. You might want to check it out because his life was and is much more extraordinary than one brief passage can suggest. copyright © Laraine Flemming 2012
copyright © Laraine Flemming 2012A Word to the Wise Drawing logical inferences based on what the writer actually says—rather than illogical ones based more on your personal experience than the author’s words—is profoundly important. An illogical inference--an implied main idea that does not follow from the sentences in the paragraph--will encourage you to have expectations that aren’t fulfilled by the text that follows your inference. When that happens, you’ll feel confused. To make the author’s words make sense, you’ll have to re-read the passage and come up with another implied main idea. Even worse, you might just quit in frustration, and not master the material you need for your course. copyright © Laraine Flemming 2012
Questions to Ask When Inferring the Main ideaWhat chains of repetition and reference thread their way through the paragraph? How can I put the words or phrases repeated and referred to into a complete sentence that makes a comment on the topic? Do most of the sentences within the paragraph explain or prove the main idea I have inferred? Does the sentence I have inferred unify or tie together the majority of sentences in the paragraph? copyright © Laraine Flemming 2012
Spot Quiz: Recognizing Logical and Illogical InferencesRead the following passage. Then decide which of the following implied main ideas is logical and which one not. Annamaria Lusardi, an economist at Dartmouth University, has conducted several studies measuring what Americans know about practical finance, and the studies suggest that far too many Americans know very little. Almost half of Lusardi’s subjects could not answer basic questions about interest rates or the effects of inflation. Many people also didn’t know the terms of their mortgage or what interest rate they were paying for their homes, automobiles, and credit cards. In his book Broke, U.S.A., Gary Rivlin confirms what Lusardi’s studies suggest about American’s financial knowledge. He also documents the awful consequences it produces. Rivlin’s book is filled with stories about people ending up flat broke because they didn’t know what they were signing when they took out mortgages and loans. But the misery that awaits people who don’t understand the ins and outs of practical finance isn’t evident just from Rivlin’s heartbreaking stories. There are statistics making the same point. A study of mortgage foreclosures in the Northeast, for instance, found that people with the least amount of financial knowledge suffered the most home foreclosures. copyright © Laraine Flemming 2012
Which one is the logical inference?Americans don’t understand financial matters because the people who make loans or write mortgages try to make the terms as confusing as possible, causing many people to end up in bankruptcy court. Many Americans have a low level of financial literacy, and they pay a painful price for their lack of knowledge. Answer 1 might well be true, but there is nothing in the paragraph that lends evidence for this point. The sentence doesn’t tie the details together. On the contrary, it adds a whole new element, something an implied main idea should not do. An implied main idea should also not contradict what’s actually said in the passage. The passage makes a cause and effect connection between lack of financial knowledge and bankruptcy or foreclosure. It doesn’t connect bankruptcy or foreclosure to the paperwork. Answer 2 is logical because it ties together the two threads of the paragraph, the lack of financial savvy and the consequences of that lack. All the sentences in the paragraph combine to make this point, making it the logical main idea. copyright © Laraine Flemming 2012
Adding Supporting DetailsWriters don’t rely on readers just for implied main ideas. They also rely on them for supporting details. For instance, in these two sentences, the second sentence illustrates the first, but the writer doesn’t tell you that. It’s up to you to infer the relationship or connection between the two: “Schools sometimes encourage sexual stereotypes through the the teaching materials used. One survey of children’s readers found that although boys and girls were portrayed with almost equal frequency, girls were more often the characters in stories in need of rescue and boys were rarely shown doing housework or displaying emotions.” Adapted from Bukatko and Daehler, Child Development, p.469 copyright © Laraine Flemming 2012
Spot Quiz: Adding Supporting DetailsWhat other supporting details does the reader need to infer to make these two sentences make sense? “Schools sometimes encourage sexual stereotypes through the the teaching materials used. One survey of children’s readers found that although boys and girls were portrayed with almost equal frequency, girls were more often the characters in stories in need or rescue and boys were rarely shown doing housework or displaying emotions.” The notion that females are in need of rescue is part of the “feminine” stereotype while the idea that males don’t show their emotions or do housework is part of the “masculine” stereotype. copyright © Laraine Flemming 2012
Spot Quiz: Adding Supporting DetailsWhat essential detail do readers need to supply for this passage to make sense? Anytime you wake up the morning after a snowstorm to find 2 feet of fresh powder piled up in your driveway, you can guarantee that traveling anywhere outside your home is going to be a chore. Driving, especially, is going to be dangerous. Snow on the roads makes travel more difficult and it makes driving dangerous. copyright © Laraine Flemming 2012
Key Term: Drawing ConclusionsConclusions are a type of inference. not directly stated but strongly suggested by what’s said in the passage. not necessarily intended by the author. drawn about the author or someone mentioned in the passage. For me, it’s necessary to make a distinction between inferences and conclusions, because I think they represent two different kinds of thinking and linguistically we don’t use them interchangeably, even if we do say they are synonyms. In other words, you wouldn’t say that the reader has to draw a conclusion between two sentences to make sense of them, you would say inference instead, thus my distinction between ideas implied by the author consciously and those that are implied but not necessarily intended, at least not consciously, by the author. copyright © Laraine Flemming 2012
copyright © Laraine Flemming 2012A Word to the Wise Like implied main ideas, conclusions can be considered logical or illogical: Logical conclusions are based on what is actually said in the passage. Illogical ones are based more on the reader’s past experience or common sense. They might well be true statements but they aren’t supported by what the writer says. copyright © Laraine Flemming 2012
copyright © Laraine Flemming 2012Illustration of a Conclusion that Follows From the Passage But May Not Have Been Intended by the Author Around 150 A.D., a fabulously wealthy patron of the arts, Herodes Atticus, who built a theater in Athens that can still be seen today, had a son who had trouble learning the alphabet and thus could not read. To help his son, the father gave 24 of his servants one specific task, to represent the name of a single letter from the alphabet. On a daily basis, the servants were to appear before Atticus’s son, call out their name and hold up the symbols they represented. Although it may have taken a while, the boy presumably learned the entire alphabet and eventually became a reader. Which of the conclusions that follow can logically be drawn from the passage? copyright © Laraine Flemming 2012
Which conclusion follows from the paragraph?The son of Herodes Atticus was pretending he couldn’t read to spite his father. Herodes Atticus placed a high value on being able to read. His son’s problems with reading taught Herodes Atticus a hard lesson: money doesn’t buy happiness. Like all wealthy Greeks of the time, Herodes Atticus considered slaves to be property rather than people. Answers a, c, and d might all be true for all we know, but there is no evidence in the paragraph to back these answers up. Everything that is explicitly stated makes answer b the most logical conclusion. copyright © Laraine Flemming 2012
Spot Quiz: Drawing ConclusionsRead the following passage and decide which conclusion is logical. In September of 2010, Randy Barnett, a law professor from Georgetown University, and William J. Howell, the Speaker of the Virginia House of Delegates, wrote an editorial for the Wall Street Journal, arguing in favor of what’s called the Repeal Amendment. The Repeal Amendment would give two-thirds of the states the power to repeal or revoke any federal law or regulation. At the heart of Barnett’s and Howell’s argument was the belief that the federal government has grown too powerful and has gone too far in its attempt to solve social problems that should be left in the hands of individuals. In their eyes, the Repeal Amendment would act as a necessary corrective. It would give the states more power and the government less. copyright © Laraine Flemming 2012
copyright © Laraine Flemming 2012Which one of the these conclusions follows from statements made in the passage? The authors of the editorial believe that there should be prayer in the schools. The authors believe that the states do not have the right to impose a personal income tax; only the federal government has the right to impose taxes. The authors are unlikely to support the idea that the federal government can penalize those citizens who choose not to purchase health insurance. There is nothing in the paragraph that suggests how the authors feel about religion or its role in education. Conclusion 2 actually contradicts how the authors of the editorial are described. They lean more toward greater control by the states and less by the federal government, so statement 2 contradicts the position described in the reading. Statement 3 is the more likely conclusion since the Repeal Amendment is designed to limit the ability of the federal government’s to control behavior. copyright © Laraine Flemming 2012
copyright © Laraine Flemming 2012Final Wrap: The Role of Inferences in Comprehension and Critical Reading When you are trying to identify the topic and main idea of the paragraph, looking for the _____________ left by the author can help you identify both. What words or phrases do you think are significant in the following paragraph and why have you singled them out? What is the main idea of the paragraph? Is that main idea stated or implied? 1. chains of repetition and reference 2. Increasing happiness, encouraging happiness, happy thinking are all possible topics based on the chains of repetition and reference in the paragraph. copyright © Laraine Flemming 2012
copyright © Laraine Flemming 2012Final Wrap: The Role of Inferences in Comprehension and Critical Reading For some scientists, being happy is a matter of genetics. As this group sees it, people are genetically programmed to be up beat or depressed. A much smaller group of scientists, however, disagrees. One of those who disagrees is psychologist Sonja Lyubomirsky of the University of California. She and her colleagues argue that certain kinds of thinking can encourage happiness in people who might, otherwise, not feel so great. After reviewing 51 studies that tested attempts to increase happiness through positive thinking, Lyubomirsky argues that certain kinds of behavior or thinking can increase feelings of happiness. Expressions of gratitude, for instance, seem to make feel people better about the world. In one study, people who wrote letters of gratitude generally felt better after doing so. The effect was felt even in those who did not send the letters. Optimistic thinking also seems to increase happiness. Participants in another study were asked to visualize themselves in a happy situation and think about how they might make that rosy future a reality. These subjects too reported a more positive outlook, as did those who counted their blessings on a regular basis. Who knows? Maybe it’s true that there is power in positive thinking. 3. The implied main idea would be something along the lines of “Although many scientists consider happiness to be genetically determined, some are convinced that we can think ourselves into being happy.” Implied. Not very subtly but still implied. Note: Here again, you may want to cut and paste the paragraph into a Word file and print it out. Or maybe it to students so that they can look at the paragraph when they think about the answers. copyright © Laraine Flemming 2012
copyright © Laraine Flemming 2012Final Wrap: The Role of Inferences in Comprehension and Critical Reading Read the following passage and then pick the conclusion you think you could safely draw from the author’s words. One of the best-known first pets was Fala, Franklin D. Roosevelt's black Scottish terrier. The dog went everywhere with Roosevelt, once making the news when he was accidentally left behind on a trip to the Aleutian Islands. Roosevelt's Republican opponents accused him of spending $8 million to send a destroyer back to fetch the dog. The president's humorous defense of his dog only increased his popularity and probably helped Roosevelt win his historic fourth term. But Fala is not the only famous first pet. President Richard Nixon's dog Checkers has been credited with saving Nixon’s political career. In a 1952 speech on national television, Nixon defended accusations of financial irregularities by acknowledging the receipt of just one personal gift, Checkers. Nixon also tearfully claimed he would never give up Checkers. Gerald Ford's dog Liberty was so popular, the cast of the TV comedy show Saturday Night Live often included Liberty in their skits about the president. Millie, the springer spaniel belonging to George and Barbara Bush, appeared as the author of a New York Times bestselling book. Then First Lady Hillary Clinton increased the fame of first pets with her book "Dear Socks, Dear Buddy: Kids' Letters to the First Pets." President Obama encouraged interest in the first family’s pet by making the search for their dog a public event. Eventually the family settled on Bo, a Portuguese Water Dog, who has become one of the most photographed pooches of all time. From this passage, readers could draw which of the following conclusions? copyright © Laraine Flemming 2012
copyright © Laraine Flemming 2012Final Wrap: The Role of Inferences in Comprehension and Critical Reading Democrats like dogs more than Republicans do. Presidents may love their dogs, but they also use them for public relations. How presidents treat their dogs can reveal a lot about their presidential character. Many presidential dogs have become more famous then their owners. copyright © Laraine Flemming 2012
copyright © Laraine Flemming 2012What Do You Think Do you think happiness can be developed by the right mental habits? Can you explain what in your experience or reading makes you think that is true (or not)? copyright © Laraine Flemming 2012
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